Four years ago, at around this time, Jamaal Tinsley was coming off a season that saw him play fewer than half the games his lottery-bound Indiana Pacers participated in due to injury woes. He shot well under 40 percent for the second straight year, and his sluggish play inspired the team to send former All-Star center Jermaine O'Neal to Toronto for point guard T.J. Ford on draft night to replace Tinsley as a starter. A few months later, with the 2008-09 season about to begin, Tinsley was kindly asked by the Pacers to stay away from the team, while they figured out how to either trade or release him. Between that impasse and Tinsley's re-emergence with the Memphis Grizzlies, the one-time All-Rookie team member wouldn't play a second of NBA basketball for 21 1/2 months.
Fast forward to May of 2012, and Tinsley … well, he's still shooting way under 40 percent, in the playoffs at least. He's 34 now, and his Utah Jazz were just swept from the playoffs, and it's possible he's played his last NBA game. Still — he's going out as a professional this time around, as evidenced by the tweet he sent out on Monday night following his team's elimination:
Nobody should excuse Tinsley's time in Indiana. He hit the scene with a bang early in the 2001-02 season, putting up major stats for a Pacers team desperately searching for a floor leader following the loss of Mark Jackson during the 2000 offseason. Jackson, by then on the tail end of his career, was smartly let go in order to let the Toronto Raptors overpay for his services, but replacements such as Travis Best and (at times) Jalen Rose weren't what a Pacers roster full of hungry hands needed at the point guard position. Tinsley, a natural distributor, seemed like exactly what the Pacers were crying for.
The problem is that Tinsley never built upon his early promise. He was often out of shape, and a litany of injuries resulted. By the time he butted heads with Pacers el jefe Larry Bird during the 2008-09 campaign, he was serving as the worst of what the post-Malice at the Palace Pacers had to offer their fans. At least they could trade Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson. Nobody even wanted Tinsley.
It was incredibly disappointing. People often forget that this Pacers team, even before the Artest-fueled melee destroyed its chances at a title in 2005, represented a series of letdowns.
Because the group purposefully broke up the rotation that led it to the 2000 Finals (dumping Antonio Davis before that season, and Dale Davis following the runner-up turn; then passing on re-signing Jackson), the franchise was unfairly afforded patience as it rebuilt on the fly with a younger core. The problem with that idea is that the team still had 50-win talent, because the Eastern Conference was so weak back then, but for some reason they were allowed to pass as overachievers just by making the lower rung of the playoff bracket with a mediocre record.
It seems too easy a scapegoat, but the coaching of Isiah Thomas was the biggest reason why. Thomas had perhaps the deepest team in the East, and yet night after night he refused to take advantage of proper matchups or play-calling, even after a 2002 deal with the Chicago Bulls (netting the team Artest and Brad Miller) added even more to that depth. Toss in Tinsley's stagnation, the letdown of the 2004-05 team post-brawl, and the inability to do something significant with Peja Stojakovic's expiring contract and eventual cap space (acquired for Artest), and you can see why the team is still struggling to fill its stadium.
Tinsley was the last holdout. And he could have held on. Instead, he went back to work.
He worked in Memphis, attempting to run back into shape for a Grizzlies team that was attempting to rebuild. He played in the D-League. He signed in Salt Lake City, a town somehow farther removed from his Brooklyn roots than Indianapolis ("nothing's open but Steak n' Shake, sorry"), Indiana. And he went out on a good note. Assuming that this is the last note.
He got paid for that good note. And the talent he showcased over a decade ago in his rookie season should have ensured that Tinsley (never the most athletic guard) could have played deep into his 30s, but it's still a turnaround that nobody could have predicted. Even if his production this year (a combined seven points/assists in 13.7 minutes per game, 40 percent shooting in the regular season) wasn't much to fawn over.
It's just nice to behold. And in a week where half of the NBA's remaining teams will say "goodnight," a week and a half after 14 of the league's 30 teams took to their offseason, we thought we'd point out that you don't have to go out a malcontent. Whether the team or the situation or the climate or the teammates or the Larry Bird was wrong is not the issue — you can come back, even after being considered the pariah.
Just ask Jamaal Tinsley. He's on Twitter, we hear.